Feeling the Grind

The theme of something you love turning into a grind has been running through my head for a while. This theme can basically broken down to three questions, as applicable to poker:

1. Is it possible to “master” poker, to reach a level where there are very few plays that are not “known” to you? At this point, the play becomes more algorithmic and less creative. Your heuristics for deciding whether to raise or fold are based more on memory than critical thought.
2. If it is possible, does poker become less fun at this point? Is it truly a grind?
3. How long does it take to reach this level of mastery?

I’ve been pondering these questions for a while now, and today came across a GCA post that said something like “Those who truly love the game will have a harder time making money. Those who treat it like a job will have a better chance at succeeding.”

Now I’m no GCA fan, but this hit home. After playing football for 18 years, I met several pros (or players who ended up pros) that played football only as a job. They didn’t even like the game anymore, but it was their best career option, since most of these guys had little in the way of education. I always loved the game, and played “for the love of the game.” Of course it was a grind after week 12, when your body is beat up and your legs tired, but I still loved it.

Poker is different. Tight play gets the money in most cases, and at low limit tables, one is usually better of “looking for an excuse to fold” as Lee Jones says. When you play like this, poker becomes very boring, but perhaps also becomes more profitable.

My tentative conclusion is that there is much more interesting tactical play at the higher limit games. Simple tight play won’t get the money there, and critical thinking becomes more profitable. However, at the lower levels, robotic tight play in loose games will prevail. So, I am planning on treating poker somewhat like work. If I put in the robotic tight play, I can develop some fundamental skills, and hopefully reward myself with the bankroll to play in the “big game”.

After getting my ass kicked at a shorthanded $5-10 table, I thought the above was a good plan. This table had the toughest players I’ve ever faced, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t getting any cards. I admit my shorthanded game is probably only slightly above par, but there are only so many times you can lose with AK heads up before you start giving a little blame to the cards. Anyway, I got demolished, dropping $182 in 30 minutes.

This was not good for my Thanksgiving-depleted bankroll, and I figured it was time to start the experiment. If nothing else, the beating at the shorthanded game made me happy to do some jail time as a robot at the $3-6 tables. (Side note: I have only played a couple shorthanded sessions at $5-10, but the players here seem to me the best on party collectively. The only reason to sit at this table is to test your game.)

So I sat at 3 $3-6ers, resolved to play tight, with the occasional move thrown in to spice it up. It helped that each of the 3 virtual decks was pretty much slapping me in the face, but after a 1 hour session, I found myself up $75 $62 and $82 for a total of $219. Excellent (as Mr. Burns would say), it worked! Just when my confidence is in the gutter, a wave of cards will wash over me and bring me back in. I even stole 3 or 4 pots, not an easy task at low limit.

The downside is that even if I average a whopping 3 bets an hour on all three tables, it takes 19 hours to make a grand. Is it not better to take a shot at the $15-30 games, and hope to hit 3 or 4 big hands? Of course the risk is much greater, but we’re looking at at least 40 hours to earn 1K (at 1.5 BB hour), and the most I want to put in is a couple hours a night at most. Yeah, yeah I know. 40 hours is nothing. But I’m old. A wife and a 9-5, and hopefully a book on the way. Ah well. We’ll see what happens. That’s why it’s an experiment.

I leave you with a passage from Paul Auster’s “The Music of Chance”. I think it’s a good illustration of what it takes to succeed in life. No matter what the world tells you, if you don’t have an unflinching faith in yourself as a person, life ain’t gonna be worth livin…

“At ten thirty, he switched off the television and climbed into bed with a paperback copy of Rousseau’s Confessions . . . . Just before he fell asleep, he came to the passage in which the author is standing in a forest and throwing stones at trees. If I hit that tree with this stone, Rousseau says to himself, then all will go well with my life from now on. He throws the stone and misses. That one didn’t count, he says, and so he picks up another stone and moves several yards closer to the tree. He misses again. . . . That was just the final warm-up toss, he says, it’s the next one that really counts. But just to make sure, he walks right up to the tree this time, positioning himself directly in front of the target. He is no more than a foot away from it by now, close enough to touch it with his hand. Then he lobs the stone squarely against the trunk. Success, he says to himself, I’ve done it. From this moment on, life will be better for me than ever before.”

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